Remarks as prepared for delivery: Opening Statement: Chairman K. Michael Conaway
All of you know the economic condition of rural America right now.
We have seen a 52-percent drop in net farm income over the past 5 years. Chapter 12 bankruptcies are up 33 percent over the past 2 years alone. And not long ago, two key universities informed us that two-thirds of the representative farms they use to model the economic conditions of agriculture are currently in marginal or poor financial condition.
In my former life, I was a businessman and an accountant, so I came to Congress with the view that we ought to get our work done on time. My view on this has not changed. The current farm bill is set to expire at the end of this year, so we have a duty to act.
The current conditions in rural America make me feel even stronger about our obligation in this regard. I know that the temptation is often to kick the can down the road, to extend current law for short periods in order to avoid tough decisions. But, I believe an extension of the current farm bill is a very bad idea. An extension denies farmers and ranchers the certainty they deserve, it fails to address the problem of programs whose funding expires, and it fails to meet important new needs. We have heard farmers and ranchers tell us how important the Foreign Market Development Program is, but funding for FMD will be zeroed out under an extension.
The same is true of the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops program, the Emerging Markets Program, a number of programs for beginning farmers and ranchers, for nutrition programs that incentivize healthy eating, and several organic programs, to name only a few. This farm bill also makes a major new investment in animal disease preparedness and response, including a vaccine bank, a high priority for livestock producers. Funding for these initiatives and many more would not be funded under an extension of current law. So, with necessity being the mother of invention, I am resolved to move forward.
Throughout this farm bill process, I have sought in good faith to work with the Ranking Member in the development of this farm bill. By and large, the bill before the Committee today is a reflection of our work together. I sincerely regret that our discussions ultimately did not bear fruit relative to the nutrition title. On SNAP, we have some honest disagreements that apparently prevent us from coming together on a farm bill. I know we will have a full debate on SNAP, especially on the question of whether able-bodied adults should work or train for work for 20 hours per week. I would have liked to have had these discussions over the past month in order to try and reach some accord, but discussions were halted.
So, I crafted a budget-neutral nutrition title that I believe not only keeps faith with SNAP beneficiaries but goes a step further by offering the hope of a job and a skill and a better future for themselves and their families.
As a member of this committee, I watched with dismay as the bipartisanship of the Agriculture Committee broke down in the House process on the 2008 and 2014 Farm Bills, despite the best efforts of the Chairmen at the time. I wanted in the worst way to break that trend and return us to the bipartisanship which is the hallmark of this committee.
While we are not there today, I am hopeful that we will get there just as we did in 2008 and 2014.
With that, I would like to recognize the distinguished Ranking Member for his opening statement.